Anna Koblish Sees The World Through Color

Anna Koblish is a New York City-based photographer and creative director who, since her emergence several years ago, has been taking the world of photography by storm. Through her work, Koblish often treads the lines of mere photograph and art, utilizing colors across a rich palette to emphasize emotion and vibrancy.

Originally raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia, the photographer previously explored creative mediums such as art, theater, and fashion, which she later attended Parsons School of Design to study product design with a minor in fashion. Furthermore, the focus on color and composition evidently showcases the power that she possesses through carving out a lane of her own. “I’ve always seen the world creatively, I just wasn’t aware of it,” she tells us.

While working with notable artists such as Johnny Orlando, Lil Huddy, and Wallice, as well as brands like Prada, Playboy, and Calvin Klein, Anna has amassed a sizeable audience surrounding her nostalgic, 90s-inspired aesthetic with a modern twist. Her latest string of editorial work creates a utopian world where the subjects appearing in her photos exude unwavering confidence and radiant joy.

We chat with Anna Koblish about navigating New York, the dynamic between a photographer and their subjects, how color informs her work, and much more. Read on for our conversation below.

Can you talk about your background growing up in Philadelphia and later, your ties to New York when you attended Parsons School of Design?

I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I wasn’t necessarily a black sheep, but I think everybody in my life, especially my parents, knew there was something going on with me. Being a creative kid was never something that was pushed, my parents knew it was there but there were so many other things going on with me that it kind of fell to the back burner. But even then, I would steal my mom’s VHS camera and try to film home videos with her and stuff. 

Then in middle school, my mom gave me her DSLR, and finally, my parents were like, “alright, well this is something that you want to do and you’re pretty good at it, we’ll start investing.” So they bought me a camera and I bootlegged a Photoshop subscription. I was addicted to Tumblr, I was one of those kids that spent their entire day on Tumblr. I think I wanted to know how to make the images that I was reblogging or whatever. Whatever the style was back in late 2013, like super hazy, I don’t know, like people floating in like grass fields and stuff, I was obsessed with it.

Around this time my parents sent me to a few photo camps the summer before high school. But honestly, my entire time in high school and college, I barely picked up a camera. It wasn’t even until October of my senior year of high school when applications were due that I had a meltdown and was like, “I need to go to art school in New York City.” My mom wasn’t surprised. I built my portfolio from scratch in two months. I applied and got in everywhere, which was a really big deal to me at the time. I decided on Parsons and studied product design. I basically built furniture for four years which was amazing and transformative for the first two years, but towards the end, I started to feel like maybe it wasn’t what I wanted to do.

Was there a pivotal moment when you realized that this is what you wanted to pursue? Do creative mediums such as photography inform the way you see the world outside of art?

I realized I wanted to be a photographer when I was interning for a photographer, like a week before the pandemic happened. I saw her and what she was doing and I was like I need to do that, and I did. I got super lucky during the pandemic. I was at home with my sister and we just shot all the time and then by the time the world opened up again I was almost a fully functioning photographer. Kinda crazy.

In terms of the way I see the world outside of art, I’m a music person. I’ve always seen the world creatively, I just don’t think I’ve always been aware of it. I’m obsessed with analyzing artwork and album covers and thinking about how they can inform the way a listener digests an album or a song.

Color can be used to express or elicit certain emotions, such as joy or sadness, is there a certain set of colors that you find yourself gravitating towards?

I think it’s pretty obvious that color is super important. I color my work really intentionally and the best part is, that all of that stuff is happening in real life. I’ve always found it really hard to capture what’s happening right in front of you on camera so I think the way that I edit is my attempt at bringing what I see around me every day into my artwork.

I don’t do a lot of warm-toned stuff. A lot of my work is blue, it’s my favorite color. I think right now I’m playing a lot with highlights and shadows and coloring those individually. My favorite thing to do right now is to go into the channels and tweak the blue and the yellow. I built this preset maybe three months ago that I’ve been using as a base for every shoot. I’ve never done that before. Usually, the most stressful part of an editing process is figuring out what the color grading is going to be. By the time the stuff  I’m working on currently comes out, I might be onto something else though, which is kinda cool.

Looking back at some of your photos, your editing style and even the composition of some of your work have changed quite a bit.

I mean, I didn’t study photography and I’ve only really been at this for two years. I kinda decided that I wanted to do it because honestly, I knew that I could. In the beginning, I was posting whatever I thought looked cool but when I started to take things a bit more seriously, I started to pay attention to photographers that I really loved and what they were doing. I literally just tried to copy them. I spent so much time trying to replicate and copy other photographers’ styles.

I’m really competitive. I needed to know if I could do what they did, at least somewhat. I still feel that way. But I think through doing that, I was able to find my style pretty quickly. I think when you’re trying to copy someone else, it’s inevitable that your own style kind of peeks through because you never will be able to copy something 100%. 

The best part about photography, but also kind of the scariest, is that your style is going to change pretty much indefinitely. Like, I bought a fisheye in the beginning, and now I’m already kind of over it. I just recently outgrew the light setup that I’ve been using for the past two years, you know? It’s inevitable. It just keeps changing and it’s going to keep changing forever, but there’s still an underlying taste level thing that will continue to inform everything you do.

Can you talk a bit about your current aesthetic?

I don’t know. I’m always asked that but I have no idea what it looks like. Also, the editing process is so involved that it’s hard to see it clearly. It’s been a never-ending cycle of incoming projects that I get lost in. I think I stopped worrying about what my stuff looked like a while ago, from a zoomed-out perspective at least. I’ve been doing a lot of surrealism recently, But even saying that kind of makes me feel like I’m lying haha.

What I can say is I like to make people look like their coolest, hottest selves. I think I get a sense of who is standing right in front of me and figure out how to bring out their most intense qualities. I don’t really have any interest in capturing anything real if that makes sense. I want all of my work to exist in this hyper-saturated, surrealist world. Definitely a form of escapism. 

Being a self-taught photographer, would you recommend that anyone go to school for it?

Everybody is different, so it’s hard to say, but there was definitely a time in my life when I wished
I had. I think it depends on who you are, what you want, and how resilient you are. There are things that I wish I had learned like lighting and retouching because those are the things I struggle with the most, but outside of those two things, I would personally never want to be in photo school. Being critiqued non-stop for 4 years, and maybe not even in ways that are useful to you, can become extremely exhausting and tedious. I’m not not saying that criticism is bad. I think learning how to take and implement criticism surrounding your work is insanely important, I just wouldn’t want to do it in a class setting at this point in my life, with my own work. 

Tell us about a typical workday when you approach a new project. For example, how much time do you spend shooting versus post-shoot edits or touching up photos?

I’ll get up, take my Vyvanse, and as soon as it kicks in, I’m at my desk. I’ll go through photos, do some test color prints, start editing, and send some shit out to people I trust to advise me on which colors look best. I’m editing for like six hours- sometimes more, sometimes less, with really no breaks. Mostly listen to music or sometimes I sit in complete silence like a crazy person.

I don’t know, but I’m just staring at a fucking computer all day long. I’ve got to the point where I can’t even edit on a laptop, the screen is too small. It’s like the most privileged thing in the world, but if I didn’t have my giant desktop, I would be dead in a ditch and blind. I’m staring at minuscule sliders all day long doing tiny little tweaks, going back and forth to see which colors I like. It’s insane. That is definitely a shared experience among photographers though. 

But yeah, editing takes the most amount of time, and shooting is definitely the easiest and quickest part of the process.

You and Tyler Mazaheri have worked on a number of campaigns together, notably Prada and Calvin Klein. Can you expand on how important it is to have a good dynamic between the photographer and subject?

The shoots that turn out the best are with models who weren’t afraid to look dumb. It has nothing to do with experience, I thought I did for a while. I’ve shot people with zero experience in front of the camera and the photos come out amazing just because they’re so committed to, like, looking cool. They just go for it and keep moving and that’s what ends up bringing the best energy.

A lot of the people I shoot will send me a mood board beforehand and be like, just go for it. I’m super lucky in that way. I think people really trust me which feels so nice.  Every once in a while, there will be a person who is “can we tweak that, can we tweak this” which I don’t really mind, that’s part of the job. I think it really comes down to trust. I think as a photographer it’s really important that your subject trusts you and vice versa. That’s how you get the best stuff. 

Does that play a role in you shooting more women than men at times?

I love shooting women. I’m a woman, obviously, and I think there’s a mutual understanding about what looks hot and cool, which makes working together super effortless. It’s really an honor to make girls look cool for a living, but dudes too. I think I have a lot of masculine energy that is kind of complemented well by working with men I think. I’m not going to lie, I really love pushing a guy out of his comfort zone with shooting and editing.

They always end up totally surprised with the end result, which feels really, really good. So I don’t have a preference on whoever I’m shooting, they’re just two different experiences. I’m super lucky because 95% of the time I’m shooting whoever reaches out to me, so the ratio kind of ends up where it ends up. 

Do you believe it is the responsibility of the artist or photographer to empower others or to merely express their own truth?

I think if I do feel that way, it’s very intrinsic and I don’t really spend a lot of time thinking about it. At the end of the day, my standards are so high. I think I am super selfish when it comes to my work but I don’t think it’s a bad thing. Like, if I’m invested, it serves everyone. I’m very focused when it comes to my work, I try not to assign a lot of stuff to it. I kind of operate under the idea that if it’s good enough for me it’s good enough period. I don’t know if I answered the question. 

At this point in your career, your work has been viewed by thousands of people and you’ve obviously worked with several celebrities and musicians. Does that create any pressure for you to keep creating content for the sake of keeping your feed active?

I always felt pressure to maintain a good Instagram feed even when I didn’t have followers. You really never know who’s watching, and people are watching. I will say now that I have a bit more of a following, I am slightly more anxious about what I put out, but even then I try to ignore the anxiety and push through it. Getting outside validation can be really intoxicating and I try really hard not to focus on it too much, but it’s really hard.

Sometimes a photo set will do really well when I wasn’t expecting it to and other times my favorite image will underperform. That’s just social media. Something I’m working on right now is remaining calm throughout every high and every low, just staying super neutral no matter the circumstance.

Regarding celebrities, the excitement of working with somebody “big”  fades pretty quickly when you have a job to do. Also your threshold for being around fame and stuff just kind of continues to get higher and higher, you get used to it really fast. 

Walk me through some of your favorite photoshoots from this past year—which ones are you really proud of?

I’m so proud of how the Johnny Orlando shoot turned out. Iris Apatow was a big deal for me. Those were some of my favorite images to date I think. My work with Maude Latour as well, we have a great relationship that’s ongoing which is really special. I love everything we’ve done together.

I really love being trusted to do single/album artwork. Working in the music industry feels like a dream. Also, my self-portraits! I have a lot of ideas for those, it’s just hard to do them when I’m swamped with other things. Boyish and Little Huddy are two I’m super proud of. Playboy was sick, just to name a few. 

Beyond that, do you have any long-term goals or dream collaborations in mind or do you primarily focus on the present?

I want to direct music videos and do creative direction for tours and VEVO performances. I want to start my own talk show which I’ve just started working on. I want to do so much. I really feel like I’m gonna end up doing all of it too, which is super cool. I’m very lucky. 

With Photography, I just can’t wait to start getting bigger gigs with bigger productions. I’d love to work with Charlie XCX… I’m a lot closer to all this stuff than I think I am. Just takes time.

Elsewhere in photography, Sarah Ohta allows viewers to live through her lens by seamlessly captivating the euphoric, adrenaline-inducing feeling of concerts.

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